Illustration by Cayden Bullock

Looking back at an iconic horror classic

By Sandy Grossman

The Myers House has become something of an icon among fans of “Halloween,” the seminal 1978 horror flick which saw masked killer Michael Myers return to his hometown and terrorize a group of hapless babysitters on Halloween night. At the time of filming the two-story craftsman had been sitting abandoned for many years in a quiet southern California suburb, beginning to look like something of a haunted house itself. Director John Carpenter and his team capitalized on the unused real estate and made it their centerpiece. The movie they crafted around it scared audiences of the day like no other and cemented the house in the collective imagination of horror aficionados.

But things have changed in the last 40 years, both for the Myers house and the movie. After being used for filming, the house was moved to a vacant lot in the center of town and has since served as the facade for many local businesses. What was once a genuine haunted house has become a chiropractor’s office. So too has “Halloween” lost some of its stature. It is still incredibly popular with a slightly older crowd, but it fails to impress younger horror fans; it lacks the viscera of many modern genre entries. While this may be true, the film still stands as a remarkable example of restrained storytelling and existential tension, one which has yet to be surpassed in the genre.

So many modern horror movies feel the need to stop the action in order to give a drawn out explanatory scene in which one of the characters searches the internet or consults an expert to find out the truth of what is going on. This scene only serves to kill tension and demystify the threat of the movie, taking away much of the horror by giving it rules and known motivations. Even truly incredible contemporary genre entries like “Hereditary” are guilty of this to some degree. “Halloween” forgoes this seemingly necessary scene, choosing to set up its villain with a genuinely unsettling opening that tells the audience just enough about Michael to provide context for the killings that are to follow but not enough to understand his motivations. It forces the audience to ask why this man is doing this but refuses to provide the answer. From this stems the true terror of the movie: as the reason for his violence is kept from us, Myers occupies a space somewhere between the human and the monstrous, in an unknowable middle ground.

While “Halloween,” as well as the house it made famous, may have lost some of its ability to scare, it is still worth recognizing what this classic does so well and what made it so beloved in the first place. It had an indelible effect on the industry, helping to popularize the horror genre as well as some of the problematic tropes which are so common within it. But despite its somewhat mixed legacy, it remains an enduringly unique film even 40 years later.

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